Sunday, August 22, 2010

Living space: choice, privilege, right?

This post was inspired by a post of A+A's, about living small. I like what they are doing, it is great to be in a neighbourhood where you can see a lot of people, and which is diverse. I feel lucky that we live about 2 streets away from our area's main Muslim community and that I can be part of a mixed women's group and that I know some of the members well enough to have a lengthy chat when I see them in the street and even to pop round and say hello. But we live in a large Victorian house that you can see in my previous post.

I'm lucky enough that I was able to buy somewhere when I lived in London and Mr Spouse had a house when he moved here as well. We joked that we had to look around a while before we found somewhere cheap enough. But actually it is fairly cheap to live here and on two salaries, we'd have been able to afford this place even without much of a deposit. We had to buy extra furniture (we didn't have a dining table or crockery storage, and we have an upstairs study/sitting area that needed a sofa) and we had the kitchen redone plus lots of cosmetic decoration.

I come from a privileged background, there is no denying it. My grandfather in the UK had a huge house - it had a spare flat that, if it wasn't rented out or lived in by the cleaner and her family, was a play space for us grandchildren (mind you, my grandfather had 5 children separated by 30 years). My grandparents in the US had a smaller one-storey building but set in gorgeous California land. We grew up in a Regency house on four floors. My parents had to put in heating, a floor in the basement, I suspect an inside toilet, but it was also somewhat spacious. We did learn to be frugal in what posessions we needed when we lived abroad for a couple of periods when I was a child but that was by choice and also a result of privelege - my dad was also an academic and was on sabbatical. My brother and I thought of these as an adventure and both I and my mother have always prided ourselves on packing light (yes, really!).

I love living in older houses, but before we moved here, the last time Mr Spouse lived in an older house was when he was 7 and their back-to-back (think East is East, bath in kitchen, no I am not joking) was condemned. They had had a bit of space there, and moving into their two-bedroom high rise he had to give away his train set. This was his pride and joy - he had his picture in a local paper with this train set. Small living was probably not high on his list of things that made him happy. I got to go back to my toys and my own bedroom after our years away.

They lived in the flats (think opening credits of Shameless, I think I have already said that!) until they got fed up of having the upstairs neighbours' baths overflow into their living room. Then they moved to the 26th floor in another block, but that was condemned (think famous flats in London that collapsed). They did move back to a two-up, two-down rented place but then Mr Spouse bought a one bedroom flat - the first person in his family to own property - and his parents were moved by their social housing landlord into a different one-bed as they didn't need the space.

So... do you aim to live small, do you feel this is a positive thing, or a luxury? Do you like living near, and knowing, your neighbours? How close is too close? Or are you happily indulgent and will take any space you can get, and would a mile away not be too far for your neighbours?

I think we are just about right where we are - I have always lived in a town and as a real inner city dweller Mr Spouse would not be happy anywhere isolated - one of his stipulations is being able to walk to at least a basic shop and to services so you don't have to drive to the doctor's when you are too sick to drive. But unless you are very lucky, even in those halcyon days (note tongue firmly in cheek) of Victorian terraces and all the kids playing in the street, neighbours can turn into noisy neighbours, irritating neighbours, and nuisance neighbours.

And you even get that in rambling middle class neighbourhoods - I'm reminded of the bad beginning piano playing of our neighbours when I was growing up. Still, my brother learned the trumpet. We got our own back!

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